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Back No.
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transper_1pic.gif Satoru Nakajima:
Japan's First
F1 Racing Driver


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Nakajima's F1 career lasted for five years until his retirement in 1991. He unfortunately never made it to the winners' podium, though he did finish in the top six 10 times. Subsequently he established Nakajima Racing to bring up the next generation of drivers, and he is active as team manager.


In the 1960s the Japanese auto industry achieved remarkable growth, and soon Japanese cars were making their mark in the world of motor sports. But what the Japanese really wanted to see was Japanese drivers sitting behind the wheels of the vehicles on the Formula One circuit, the supreme arena of the racing world. Eventually, in 1987, Satoru Nakajima became the first Japanese driver to make full entry into this event, and his debut triggered an unprecedented F1 boom in Japan.

Nakajima was born in 1953 to a farming family living on the outskirts of Aichi’s Okazaki City. Unlike many other top racers, who have been beneficiaries of special education from an early age, including go-cart racing when they were quite young, he passed a very ordinary childhood in a pleasant rural setting. When he was still in his early teens, he practiced driving a car in his family’s garden with his older brother as his instructor, always careful that his father did not catch him. Such amusements, though, were nothing unusual for a Japanese boy growing up in the 1960s. What distinguished him from the thousands of other young boys in similar circumstances was the extent of the thrill that he derived from driving. Controlling such a big and powerful machine gave him far more pleasure than anything else. “It was absolutely the best way to play,” he recalls.

Nakajima did not enter the world of serious motor racing until after he finished high school and secured a driver’s license. But once he got started, he quickly displayed an extraordinary talent. When he made his debut in the Suzuka Circuit series at the age of 20, he won the championship. Five years later, in 1978, he got his first victory on the Japanese Formula Two circuit, the highest level of motor racing in Japan. That is when he began to think seriously about entering the Formula One competition.

It was no easy road. Starting in 1981, he won the Japanese F2 series championship five times. Indeed, he was reckoned to be practically without a rival at the top of Japan’s auto-racing world. But even then no opportunity to race on F1 tracks came his way. When the invitation to an F1 team finally arrived, he had reached 34. But if you ask him if he was moved to the extreme on finally achieving his goal, he just gives you his trademark smile and shakes his head. “It was, of course, the greatest feeling,” he admits, “but I didn’t feel nervous or pressured at all. This was simply a chance to do the thing I like best: driving some of the world’s best machines against the world’s best drivers on the world’s top stage.”

Nakajima still lives today in the Okazaki family home where as a child he would hop in a car for a spin when his father was not looking. Within the thrill he then received we can no doubt find the spark that gave Japan its first F1 driver. (Text by Takashi Sasaki; photos by Tadashi Aizawa, courtesy of Nakajima Planning)



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